Carelessness With Gasoline
CARELESSNESS means lacking care or interest; indifferent; irresponsible; or light-hearted. Carefulness signifies a watchful attention and regard, with a view to safety or protection of yourself and others.
This familiar stuff called gasoline is worthy of a great deal of respect that it doesn’t get from the average person. Most people see and handle it so frequently that they think nothing of it. The fellow who would have a heart attack in the presence of a large amount of dynamite, or call for help from his Maker at the sight of a lighted pipe or match on a keg of blasting powder, is humorously careless of his handling of a liquid that is vastly more dangerous than either of these. Experts have fixed the explosive power of gasoline at eighty-three times that of dynamite. It seems to me that if more people realized this they would not be so reckless in their contracts with it. and we would have much less trouble than we do.
As near as I can find out. we are losing approximately 2,500 lives a year in the United States from the mishandling of inflammable liquids. It is not difficult to see why it is such a hazardous commodity. First, it has a very low flash point, the temperature at which it gives off an explosive vapor.
Gasoline’s flash point ranges down to zero, or lower. Secondly, it is a highly volatile liquid, one pint being sufficient to produce 1,000 cubic feet of vapor. The sum and substance of all this is that a small quantity of gasoline can produce a large quantity of vapor which will he highly explosive when mixed with the right proportion of air and which needs only the presence of a slight spark to touch it off. This is the first fact the average person overlooks, yet it is important, because when the conditions are right, that vapor will not fail to explode.
All Grades Are Flammable
According to the Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1678, issued by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the government authorities say all grades of gasoline are flammable and dangerous. They should always be treated as such.
Gasoline has been called “liquid dynamite” because of the explosive violence which results from the ignition of gasoline vapor mixed with aitin certain proportions. The various grades of gasoline differ somewhat in chemical and physical properties. The better grades are much more hazardous to handle than others. As they are much more volatile, they mix with air in larger proportions and pass into vapor form more rapidly. Gasoline vapor is heavier than air; consequently it will float along near the ground, like an invisible stream, for distances. In a lean mixture (a little less than two per cent) five gallons of gasoline would produce 8,000 cubic feet of burnable or mildly explosive gas, or enough to fill a room having the dimensions twenty byforty feet by ten feet. If ignited, and if no heat is lost, and the products of combustion are at atmospheric pressure, this mixture would expand to six or seven times the initial volume of air and gas vapor, with destructive results.
Proper Mixture Must Exist
As with other gases and vapors, before an explosion of gasoline vapor can occur a definite proportion of air and gasoline vapor must be present. In 100 parts by volume of air and gasoline, an explosion will not take place if there is less than one or more than six parts of gasoline vapor. In other words, the explosive range is between one and about six per cent of gasoline vapor. This range of explosibility is narrow, as compared with that of many other mixtures of combustible gases and air; nevertheless. in the lower limit there is a very small proportion of gasoline vapor, indicating the great importance of not allowing even a little gasoline to be exposed in a room or confined space. Kerosene, unlike gasoline, is not highly flammable. When heated, however, it gives off dangerous vapors which are capable of forming explosive mixtures with air. Generally, kerosenes have flash points above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the flash points of gasoline range down to zero and lower. So much for the valuable information from the government bulletin.
Gasoline Truck Destroyed
It has been well said that the spark from a cat’s back is sufficient to explode this stuff called liquid dynamite, but if you want to go even further than that into the “Believe it or not” field, consider the case of the new driver for a gasoline distributor whose truck burned up one day. Investigation showed that he had not been in any way responsible for the fire, so he was given a new truck. In time that one burned up, too, and after a most rigorous investigation again failed to produce any evidence of negligence on his part; he was put on a third truck. When that one eventually went up in smoke, the officials held a council of war. They couldn’t pin a thing on him—he had reliable and impartial eye-witnesses to prove that he was absolutely beyond reproach on each occasion, so, as a last resource, the medical men were called in—and they solved the mystery. They found that the man’s physical make-up was such that his body generated considerably more static electricity than normal. Hence when the atmosphere was dry and the necessary amount of friction provided, he just couldn’t help but set fire to his trucks when he opened the valves that started the stuff running. Needless to say, they transferred him to a job where his “magnetism” wouldn’t prove so dangerous. My authority for this incident is none other than Thomas F. Dougherty, former Assistant Chief, New York Fire Department.
But what about the man who becomes careless smoking a pipe, cigar or cigarette in the basement garage; the careless employee smoking in the public garage, filling station, or industrial plant where gasoline vapors can be found? 1 think most filling station attendants will tell us that the metal nozzle of the supply hose should rest against the metal rim of the car’s gas tank during the process of filling the tank. This aids in grounding any static that may be generated, diverting it through the metal parts instead of permitting it to spark in mid-air where it may hit the gasoline vapor. Drivers of tank wagons are always watchful to make sure that the drag chain is properly attached to the truck. That chain is just about as important as an asbestos curtain in a theatre. The chain dangling behind the tank truck to the pavement will ground any static that may be generated in the vehicle.
High Voltage in Supply Hose
I have been informed that scientific tests have shown as much as 400 to 500 volts of electricity can be generated in a gasoline supply hose by the friction of the flowing fluid.
Pouring gasoline from one can to another without contacting the canij may cause an explosion. Many may remember back to the days when gasoline was strained through chamois in the fire stations. That practice was discarded shortly after it was inaugurated because of the number of explosions and fires that this generally caused.
Static electricity is easily generated and some may wonder why we don’t have more explosions. I believe the answer is that those who handle gasoline professionally and commercially, are constantly striving to be careful with it. Every precaution should be taken by the layman to be exceptionally careful when using gasoline, and by all means it should never be left in an open container, or in any vessel not securely capped.
Examinations for Gas Leaks
It is well worth our time to look for leaks in tanks, cans, gas lines of automobiles, motor boats, or motorcycles. Crank case draining, rags or other refuse saturated with gasoline should not left around indoors. The private domestic garage should be well ventilated. Windows and especially doors should be left open as much as possible, particularly if the garage happens to be in the basement. The gasoline vapor will always seek the lowest level, and if it finds a location below grade, ordinary ventilation methods will not remove it for a long time. Gasoline cans should be kept away from heat pipes, furnaces and radiators. Cans of gasoline exposed to the sun outdoors is just another way to let yourself in for a lot of trouble, for when gasoline is heated under confinement it expands so forcefully that it may rupture containers.
As an aftermath of two serious gasoline tank truck fires, the Board of City Commissioners of Ottawa, Kan., passed, on July 29, 1936, an ordinance prohibiting the transportation, by tank trucks, of petroleum products in quantities over 600 gallons through or into the city of Ottawa. The validity of the ordinance was contested by transportation companies, but the Kansas Supreme Court later upheld the city ordinance.
Kansas Court Decision
We all know that from year to year our state laws are changed, and frequently new laws are enacted. Such changes quite often have a direct bearing on the local fire ordinances of communities. Recently the Kansas Supreme Court reversed its decision which upheld the ordinance of the city of Ottawa, which prohibited the transportation of gasoline through the city streets in trucks containing more than 600 gallons. The reverse decision was based on the new Chapter 283 of the state laws creating uniform traffic regulations. This chapter restricts the power of cities to regulate traffic within their corporate limits Justice Smith, in delivering the opinion of the court, showed that the new Chapter of the state law expressly repeals a statute giving the cities power to regulate and control the use and speed of automobiles and motor vehicles within their corporate limits.
So the Fire Chiefs now seem to have another duty. They must be on the alert for changes in laws affecting the city fire ordinances. If a Chief fails to keep himself informed on all new laws pertaining to the public safety, then he fails to properly protect his community. lie can always appeal to the public for assistance.